Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ACLU: Political Spying by U.S. Law Enforcement on the Rise

Revelations of domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens exercising their constitutional rights led to a number of Congressional investigations and new laws in the years after Watergate. In the intervening years, and with accelerated fervor since 9/11, the U.S. government has sought to regain what powers of overarching surveillance it may have lost in the years of the Church and Pike investigations.

A press release today from the ACLU describes the latest ways in which the FBI, and other U.S. law enforcement agencies, now armed with the latest stealth and drone technology, are spying upon and harassing citizens attempting to exercise their right to political speech and affiliation. ACLU's "spyfiles" database, open to the public, looks like it offers much of interest to those of us, bloggers, journalists, attorneys, just-plain-citizens, who are concerned over the movement in the United States towards a full-fledged police state. Do not say it cannot happen here, as it can.
New ACLU Report And Web Hub Reveal Rise In Political Spying Across United States
Review Finds Incidents In At Least 33 States

WASHINGTON – Political surveillance and harassment by U.S. law enforcement agencies are on the rise with incidents reported in at least 33 states since 9/11, according to a review published today by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU also announced the launch of a new “Spyfiles” web hub on domestic political surveillance, which will serve as a comprehensive resource on domestic spying.

Political spying – rampant during the Cold War under the FBI’s COINTELPRO, the CIA’s Operation Chaos and other programs – has experienced a steady resurgence in the years following 9/11 as state and local law enforcement are being urged by federal law enforcement agencies to participate in counterterrorism practices.

“In our country, under our Constitution, the authorities aren’t allowed to spy on you unless they have specific and individual suspicion that you are doing something illegal,” said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Special Agent. “Unfortunately, law enforcement in our country seems to be reverting to certain old, bad behaviors when it comes to political surveillance. Our review of these practices has found that Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public.

The ACLU released its report of 111 incidents in 33 states and the District of Columbia in conjunction with the launch of its new “Spyfiles” web hub on domestic political surveillance, which will serve as a major new resource on domestic spying for the benefit of reporters, researchers, bloggers and any other interested members of the public. It will include a database of documents obtained through state and federal open-records requests as well as links to news reports and other relevant materials.

“In a democracy, there is no place for political spying or surveillance or the collection of information about routine daily activities of citizens by government,” said German. “The ACLU has been warning against domestic political spying for several years now. From our lawsuits against Defense Department spying in the middle of the past decade, to our work on fusion centers, to our ongoing close cooperation with our affiliates in states across the nation to monitor and combat these activities, the ACLU is determined to prevent the emergence of a domestic secret police apparatus in this country.”

United States law enforcement agencies, from the FBI to local police, have a long history of spying on American citizens and infiltrating or otherwise obstructing political activist groups.

“We are determined to prevent the emergence of a domestic secret police apparatus in this country,” said German. “Yet, as the ACLU’s report shows, these activities continue to take place with a regularity that shows there are systemic problems at work that must be monitored closely.”

The ACLU’s review of domestic surveillance incidents can be found at: www.aclu.org/free-speech-national-security/policing-free-speech-police-surveillance-and-obstruction-first-amendme

The ACLU’s Spyfiles page can be found at: www.aclu.org/spyfiles

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